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Poetry of Ideas: The Films of Charles Eames 

Paul Schrader 

Film Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3. (Spring, 1970), pp. 2-19. 

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2 


PAUL SCHRADER 


Poetry of Ideas: 

The Films of Charles Eames 

Although many important artists have used film outside the usual 
theatrical- feature conventions 9 critics have too seldom found ways of 
discussing their work. Considering the great amount of creative 
energy going into short films of all kinds at present , this 
neglect needs to be remedied. The study below is an attempt to come to 
terms with the output of an immensely talented man whose films — which 
are only a part of his creative work — represent a peculiarly 
contemporary synthesis of film ivith science and technology. 

They re not experimental films , they re not There are many ways one can think about 
really films. They're just attempts to get Charles Eames. He defies categorization; he is 
across an idea. — Charles Eames architect, inventor, designer, craftsman, sci- 

entist, film-maker, professor. Yet in all his di- 
Charles Eames was baffled by the fact that any- versity Eames is one creator, and his creation 
one would want to write an article about his is not a series of separate achievements, but a 
films. “When asked a question like that, about unified aesthetic with many branch-like mani- 
my approach to film/ " Eames said, “I would festations. Eames's films do not function inde- 
almost reply, ‘Who me, film?’ I don't think of it pendently, but like branches; they do not de- 
that way. I view film a little bit as a cheat; I'm rive from film history or tradition, but from a 
sort of using a tool someone else has developed." culminant culture with roots in many fields. 

Because of his casual attitude toward “Film" A capsulized biography can give, in the most 
— his debunking of the romantic myth of the vulgar way, the scope of his career; but, as 
“artist personality" and his concept of film as always, Eames remains greater than the sum 
a primarily informational medium — Charles of his avocations. 

Eames has been able, in his recent films, to Born in St. Louis in 1907, Eames studied 
give “Film" what it needs most: a new way of architecture at Washington University, in 1930 
perceiving ideas. As films move away from a started his own practice, and in 1940 married 
period in which they were content to only show Ray Kaiser, a painter with whom he subse- 
what they felt, and attempt little by little to quently shared credit for all his work. In 1940 
also tell what they think, many of the most Eames and Eero Saarinen collaborated on de- 
talented film-makers, young and old, are trying signs for the Museum of Modern Art's Organic 
to graft onto movies the cerebral sensibility they Furniture Competition. From these designs 
have so long resisted. Eames personifies this came a generation of Eames chairs: from the 
sensibility, a sensibility so synonymous with his luxurious black leather Eames lounge chair to 
life and work that he cannot conceive of him- the omnipresent molded fiberglass stacking 
self as only a “film-maker." chairs, which, within twenty years, had re- 



ceived such mass acceptance that Earnest way 
of sitting was, in a fundamental sense, every- 
body's way of sitting. In 1941, to encourage the 
wartime production of their first chair proto- 
types, Charles and Ray perfected an inexpen- 
sive lamination process for wood veneers, and 
in the same year Charles went to work, tem- 
porarily, for the art department of MGM. In 
between chairs, the Charles Eames Workshop 
produced toys, furniture, gliders, leg splints, 
and magazine covers. In 1949 Eames designed 
the Santa Monica House (where he still lives), 
which, like the chairs, was a model of simplicity 
and variety, and soon became a standard text- 
book illustration. 

The Eames films commenced in 1950 and 
over the next fifteen years they won awards 
at Edinburgh, Melbourne, San Francisco, 
American, Mannheim, Montreal, and London 
film festivals. “A Rough Sketch for a Sample 
Lesson for a Hypothetical Course,” presented 
by Charles and Ray (with George Nelson and 
Alexander Girard) in 1953 at the University of 
Georgia and UCLA, was the first public pres- 
entation of multi-media techniques. In 1960 
Eames's rapid cutting experiments in the CBS 
“Fabulous Fifties” special won him an Emmy 


Charles and Ray Eames in their studio. 

for graphic design. During this period Eames 
designed a series of World's Fair presentations: 
in 1959 the multi-screen presentation for the 
US exhibit at Moscow, in 1962 a multi-screen 
introduction to the US Science Exhibit at 
Seattle (where it is still shown), in 1964 the 
IBM Ovoid Pavilion and the film presentations 
in it, at the New York Fair. Over the years 
Eames has prepared courses and lectured across 
the world, and will this fall hold the Charles 
Eliot Norton Chair of Poetry at Harvard. 

Charles Eames can weave in and out of these 
diverse occupations because he is not commit- 
ted to any of them. He is, in the final account, 
committed to a way of life which encompasses 
them all. The toys, chairs, films are the available 
tools through which Eames can actualize his 
life-style. The common denominator of Eames's 
occupations is that he is, elementally, one thing: 
a problem-solver, with aesthetic and social con- 
siderations. He approaches life as a set of prob- 
lems, each of which must be defined, delineated, 
abstracted, and solved. His architect's mind 
visualizes complex social patterns twisting and 
folding like a three-dimensional blueprint. He 




4 


EAMES 


respects the “problem” not only as a means to 
an end, but as an aesthetic pleasure in itself. 
Although Eames rarely rhapsodizes about any- 
thing, his most “emotional” prose is saved for 
a description of the problem-solving process: 

The ability to make decisions is a proper 
function of problem solving. Computer prob- 
lems , philosophical problems , homely ones: the 
steps in solving each are essentially the same , 
some methods being elaborate variations of 
others. But homely or complex , the specific 
answers we get are not the only rewards or even 
the greatest. It is in preparing the problem for 
solution , in the necessary steps of simplification , 
that we often gain the richest rewards. It is in 
this process that we are apt to get a true insight 
into the nature of the problem. Such insight is 
of great and lasting value to us as individuals 
and to us as a society. 

— from Think , 

the IBM New York Fair presentation 

For Eames, problem solving is one of the 
answers to the problem of contemporary civili- 
zation. Not only does his problem-solving proc- 
ess provide beauty and order, but it constitutes 
the only optimistic approach to the future. He 
is currently working for the Head Start pro- 
gram, a task he feels vital because “you have 
to teach children to have a genuine respect for 
a large number of events and objects which 
are not of immediate gain to them. It is the 




only thing which puts a human being in a 
situation where he can promptly assess the next 
step. Whether it is in the ghetto or Appalachia, 
kids get their beginning having respect only for 
things which have an immediate payoff, and 
this is no way to run a railroad, particularly 
when you don’t know what the next problem 
will be.” Eames will not indulge in the despair 
of a complete overview, not because it is illegiti- 
mate, but because it can’t solve the problems. 
“You can’t take too broad a perspective,” he 
says, quoting Nobel Prize winning physicist 
Richard Feynman; “you have to find a corner 
and pick away at it.” 

Charles Eames is, in the broadest sense of 
the word, a scientist. In his film introduction to 
the US Science Exhibit at the Seattle Fair, 
Eames prescribed what that rare creature, the 
true scientist, should be, and it is a description 
of Charles Eames: 

Science is essentially an artistic or philo- 
sophical enterprise carried on for its own sake. 





US Exhibit , Moscow World's Fair , 1959 


In this it is more akin to play than to work. 

But it is quite a sophisticated play in which the of the universe.” In this way Eames’s scientist 

scientist views nature as a system of interlocking may seem similar to the scientists of the En- 

puzzles. He assumes that the puzzles have a lightenment who constructed elaborate fictions 

solution , that they will be fair. He holds to a of order, only to have them collapse with the 

faith in the underlying order of the universe. next wave of data. But unlike the Newtonian 

His motivation is his fascination with the puzzle cosmologist Eames does not state that the solv- 

itself — his method a curious interplay between able problem is necessarily a microcosm for the 

idea and experiment. His pleasures are those of universe, which may have no solution. Eames 

any artist. High on the list of prerequisites for is describing a Weltanschauung , not the uni- 

being a scientist is a quality that defines the verse. A corollary argument leveled (often by 

rich human being as much as it does the man of artists) against Eames’s scientist accuses him of 

science , that is, his ability and his desire to being shallowly optimistic, unaware of man’s 

reach out with his mind and his imagination to condition. C. P. Snow defended scientists 

something outside himself. against this charge in his “Two Cultures” lec- 

— from House of Science ture: “Nearly all of them [the scientists] — and 

To counter that the puzzles don’t have a this is where the color of hope genuinely comes 

solution and are not fair is to beg the question, in — would see no reason why, just because the 

because the scientist does not admit these possi- individual condition is tragic, so must the social 

bilities into his working definition. Because his condition be.” It is a fallacy of men of letters to 

pleasures “are those of any artist” the scientist equate contemporaneity with pessimism — as if 

sustains his world not necessarily by empirical Beckett’s “it” crawling in the mud was unavoid- 

proof, but by his “faith in the underlying order ably the man of the future. One of the exciting 



EAMES 



Multiscreen projection , House of Science, 1962 


things about Earnest film-maker, like his 
scientist, is that he challenges the hegemony of 
pessimism in the contemporary arts. 

Although Earnest structuring of the problem 
may seem antiquated (and this is debatable), 
his solutions are undeniably modern. His state- 
ment about the designing of a chair is not only 
a remarkable account of the creative process, 
but also a pioneering approach to art in a 
society in which the individual has become pro- 
gressively functionalized and collectivized: 

“How do you design a chair for acceptance 
by another person? By not thinking of what the 
other guy wants, but by coming to terms with 
the fact that while we may think we are differ- 
ent from other people in some ways at some 
moments, the fact of the matter is that we're 
a hell of a lot more like each other than we're 
different, and that we're certainly more like 
each other than we're like a tree or a stone. So 
then you relax back into the position of trying 
to satisfy yourself — except for a real trap, that 
is, what part of yourself do you try to satisfy? 
The trap is that if you try to satisfy your idio- 
syncrasies, those little things on the surface, 
you're dead, because it is in those idiosyncrasies 
that you're different from other people. And in 
a sense what gives a work of craft its personal 
style is usually where it failed to solve the prob- 
lem rather than where it solved it. That's what 
gives it the Noguchi touch, or whatever. What 
you try to do is satisfy your real gut instincts 
and work your way through your idiosyncrasies, 
as we have tried in the stuff we've done, the 
furniture or the ideas. You know it's tough 


enough just to make the first step of under- 
standing without trying to introduce our per- 
sonality or trying to outguess what the other 
guy's thinking." 

The Eameses have constructed structures — 
a house, chair, film — in which people can de- 
fine themselves not by their idiosyncrasies but 
by their similarities. These structures permit 
problem-solving — and therefore give the scien- 
tist hope. To some these structures will seem 
artificial and solipsistic, but in an age which 
has so ruthlessly degraded man's individuality 
any attempt to restructure the concept of hu- 
manism will necessarily seem artificial. 

From Eames's sensibility have come two con- 
tributions: one pertaining primarily to archi- 
tecture and design, which has already been in- 
corporated into the international cultural main- 
stream, and another most applicable to film, 
which is being developed and exists only as 
potential for mass audiences. 

Eames's first contribution concerns what 
British critic Peter Smithson calls “object-in- 
tegrity." The Eames aesthetic respects an ob- 
ject for what it is, whether machine-made or 
hand-crafted, and is based on “careful selection 
with extra-cultural surprise, rather than har- 
mony of profile, as its criteria — a kind of wide- 
eyed wonder of seeing the culturally disparate 
together and so happy with each other." Smith- 
son goes on, “This sounds like whimsy, but the 
vehicles are ordinary to culture." Eames's 
vehicles, his “structures," make it possible for 
an object to have integrity. 

The Eames aesthetic brought art into the 
marketplace through the assembly line. There 
was neither fear of nor blind obedience toward 
the machine. The machine, like its heir the 
computer, are tools which must be used by the 
artist as well as the entrepreneur. It is pro- 
letarian art: “We want to get the most of the 
best to the most for the least," Eames has said; 
“in the final analysis I want to try to reach the 
greatest number of people." The Eames chair 
stands as a tribute to the universality of his 
aesthetic; at the same time beautiful and func- 
tional, it is being manufactured in every con- 
tinent except Africa. “By the late 50's,” writes 



EAMES 


7 


Smithson, “the Eames way of seeing things 
had in a sense become everybody's style." 

Eames’s aesthetic is in opposition to one of 
the older canons of art criticism, Ruskin’s 
theory of “invention." In “The Nature of the 
Gothic" Ruskin instructed customers to pur- 
chase only goods which showed the hand of 
the inventor, rejecting anything copied or un- 
distinctive, even to the point of preferring the 
rough to the smooth. The Eames aesthetic con- 
tends that the customer, who organizes the 
life context in which objects exist, is as much a 
creative agent as the artist, and that it is his 
creative imperative to organize and respect the 
“inventive" as well as the commonplace ob- 
jects. “If people would only realize," Eames 
said, “that they have the real stuff in their 
hand, in their back yards, their lives could be 
richer. They are afraid to get involved." 

The second Eames contribution results when 
the Eames aesthetic of object-integrity is car- 
ried into the electronic age. There are two 
reasons: first of all, a computer cannot have 
object-integrity the way a chair or a toy train 
does. A chair is essentially shape, color, and 
movement, but a computer is much more. To 
respect a computer one must understand how 
it thinks, must appreciate Boolean Logic. As 
Eames’s objects became more complex, his 
approach necessarily became more cerebral. 

Secondly, the object-integrity aesthetic is 
now confronted by an objectless society. “The 
conscious covetors are growing tremendously,” 
Eames has said, “and the covetables in our 
society are shrinking tremendously. There’s not 
much worth coveting. I feel that a lot of this 
vacuum is going to be beautifully filled by cer- 
tain mastery of concepts, mastery of, say, the 
French or Russian language. And the beauty of 
this is that the coin of the realm is real. It means 
involvement on the part of the guy that’s getting 
it. He’s got it, all he has to do is give of himself. 
A lot of this is going to have to come through 
film." 

Eames’s second contribution, then, concerns 
the presentation of ideas through film. His 
method is information-overload. Eames’s films 
give the viewer more data than he can possibly 


process. The host at the IBM Pavilion succinctly 
forwamed his audience: 

Ladies and gentlemen , welcome to the IBM 
information machine. And the information 
machine is just that — a machine designed to 
help me give you a lot of information in a very 
short time. — from Thing 

Eames’s information machine dispenses a lot 
of data, but only one idea. All the data must 
pertain directly to the fundamental idea; the 
data are not superfluous, simply superabun- 
dant. Eames’s innovation, it seems to me, is a 
hypothesis about audience perception which, 
so far, is only proved by the effectiveness of 
his films. His films pursue an Idea (Time, 
Space, Symmetry, Topology) which in the 
final accounting must stand alone, apart from 
any psychological, social, or moral implications. 
The viewer must rapidly sort out and prune 
the superabundant data if he is to follow the 
swift progression of thought. This process of 
elimination continues until the viewer has 
pruned away everything but the disembodied 
Idea. By giving the viewer more information 
than he can assimilate, information-overload 
short-circuits the normal conduits of inductive 
reasoning. The classic movie staple is the chase, 
and Eames’s films present a new kind of chase, 
a chase through a set of information in search 
of an Idea. 

To be most effective the information cannot 
be random, as in a multi-media light show, or 
simply “astounding," as in the multi-media dis- 
plays at Expo ’67 which Ray described as 
“rather frivolous." The Idea conveyed by the 
information must have integrity, as evidenced 
by its problem-solving potential, intellectual 
stimulation, and beauty of form. The multi- 
media “experience" is a corruption of informa- 
tion-overload in the same way that the Barbara 
Jones and Peter Blake “found-art” collages are 
corruptions of object-integrity — they present 
the innovation without the aesthetic. Through 
information-overload, the Idea becomes the new 
covetable, the object which has integrity in an 
objectless society. To paraphrase Eames, it is in 
the quest of the Idea that we often gain the 
richest rewards. 


8 ■rrrrgsssm'— m: 1 11 r : ; = 

The films of Charles and Ray Eames fall into 
two categories. The first, the “Toy Films," pri- 
marily use the first Eames contribution, ob- 
ject-integrity; the second, the “Idea Films/' use 
the second Eames contribution, information- 
overload. 

Through precise, visual, non-narrative ex- 
amination the toy films reveal the definitive 
characteristics of commonplace objects. The toy 
films were the natural place for the Eameses to 
begin in film, for they found in simple, photo- 
graphed objects — soap-water running over 
blacktop, toy towns and soldiers, bread — the 
characteristics they were trying to bring out 
in the furniture design: 

In a good old toy there is apt to he nothing 
self-conscious about the use of materials — what 
is wood is wood; what is tin is tin ; and what 
is cast is beautifully cast. 

— from Toccata for Toy Trains 

Eames's film career is often equated with his 
toy films. Because of this mistaken assumption, 
the Eames films have already seen a critical rise 
and fall. Eames’s films received their initial 
recognition during the heyday of the Norman 
McLaren pixillation, the early fifties, when the 
Museum of Modern Art and the Edinburgh 
Film Festival acclaimed the early toy films. 
Bread , Blacktop , Parade. Eames’s reputation 
rose with McLaren’s, and fell with it. The 
Eameses became typed as the toy film-makers, 
and critical interest died off. 

The Eameses continued to make films, toy 
films as well as idea films. The toy films have 
progressed throughout the intervening years, 
using “toys" of varied complexity, the Santa 
Monica House, baroque churches, toy trains, 
the Schuetz calculating machine, the Lick Ob- 
servatory. Each toy film presents a structure in 
which objects can “be themselves," can act 
like “toys" in the same way that humans, given 
a certain structure, can act like children. The 
object need not be only functional; it can as- 
sume a number of positions. The Lick telescope 
is at one time practical, cumbersome, odd, and 
beautiful. One feels the same respect for the 
telescope that the Lick astronomer must feel 
after years of collaboration with the instrument. 


„ ■■ ; 7\r m, rrrrrr : ■ ■-■■■■rrrrrrrr EAMES 

It cohabits the same structure, has meaning, 
both functional and aesthetic, and, in brief, has 
integrity. 

The latest toy film, and the best, is Tops , a 
seven-minute study of just what the title says, 
tops. Tops is a refinement of the toy film tech- 
nique. The structures are simplified: there is no 
narration, scantier backdrops, less plot; and the 
object assumes a greater importance within the 
structure. Tops of every variety are presented. 
The viewer studies the ethnic impulses, the 
form variations, the coloration, and the spinning 
methods of tops. The first half of Tops presents 
tops in all their diversity, gradually narrowing 
the scope of its investigation to simpler and 
simpler forms: a jack, a carrom, and, finally, a 




EAMES 


9 


spinning tack. This is a moment of object-in- 
tegrity: all the complexity and variation of tops 
have resolved into the basic form of two planes, 
one of them suspended by the balanced forces 
of gravity and gyroscopic momentum. The un- 
aware viewer realizes that he has never really 
understood even an insignificant creation like 
a top, never accepted it on its own terms, 
never enjoyed it. The second half of Tops , 
which depicts the ‘Tall” of the tops, moves 
back to more complex tops, against blank back- 
grounds, giving the viewer a chance to see the 
same tops again, but with the new eyes of in- 
sight and sensitivity. 

Eames feels that the toy films are as essen- 
tial as the idea films. “I don’t think it’s an over- 





statement,” he remarked “to say that without 
a film like Tops there would be no idea films. 
It’s all part of the same process, and I think I 
could convince IBM of that, if necessary.” 

From the outset of their film-making, the 
Eameses were also making another sort of film, 
a film which dealt with objects with cerebral 
integrity. Eames’s first idea film, A Communi- 
cations Primer , resulted from a problem Eames 
realized he had to state before he could solve. 
He says, “I had the feeling that in the world 
of architecture they were going to get nowhere 
unless the process of information was going to 
come and enter city planning in general. You 
could not really anticipate a strategy that would 
solve the increase in population or the social 
changes which were going on unless you had 
some way of handling this information. And so 
help me, this was the reason for making the 
first film, because we looked for some material 
on communications. We went to Bell Labs and 
they showed us pictures of a man with a beard 
and somebody says, ‘You will invent the tele- 
phone/ or something. And this is about all you 
get. So we made a film called Communications 
Primer , essentially for architects.” 

Innovation is often a by-product of Eames’s 
problem solving, as when Charles and Ray de- 
veloped a lamination process for wood veneers 
to permit mass manufacture of their chairs. 
Similarly, Eames, in his desire to solve the com- 
plex, non-immediate problems of the city, and 
in his desire to bring integrity to the computer, 
developed a revolutionary method of informa- 
tion presentation. In 1953 Charles and Ray 
presented “A Rough Sketch for a Sample Les- 
son for a Hypothetical Course,” the first multi- 
media demonstration. “A Rough Sketch” not 
only featured three concurrent images, but also 
a live narrator, a long board of printed visual 
information, and complimentary smells piped 
through the ventilation system. 

Eames’s technique of information-overload 
has progressed just as his toy film technique has, 
and some of the first “revolutionary” films look 
rather primitive compared to his recent work. 
Eames has developed several methods of in- 
formation overload. The most basic, of course, 



10 


EAMES 


is fast cutting ( Two Baroque Churches has 296 
still shots, roughly one every two seconds). He 
often has several screens (the most being 
twenty- two at the N.Y. Fair, although not all 
the images were projected simultaneously), but 
has realized that a multiplicity of action on one 
screen can often have more impact than a single 
action on several separate screens. He has often 
used animation to simplify data, so that it can 
be delivered faster with clarity. One of Eames’s 
most successful techniques is to split the screen 
between live action and animation, each of 
which affects the mental process differently. 
Eames also counterpoints narration, sound ef- 
fects, music, and images to present several re- 
lated bits of data simultaneously. 

These techniques will certainly fade, just as 
did the McLaren aspects of his earlier films. 
Multi-media projections are a bit passe just now, 
and Eames isn’t designing any at the moment. 
But, nonetheless, Eames’s films hold up phe- 
nomenally well, because they are based on an 
aesthetic, not just an innovation. (Eames’s spe- 
cific techniques have several competent practi- 
tioners: Wheaton Galentine’s 1954 Treadle and 
Bobbin corresponds to Eames’s toy films, Don 
Levy’s 1964 Time Is corresponds to Eames’s 
idea films.) Even though the specific techniques 
and in some cases the very ideas of his earlier 
films may become antiquated, Eames’s way of 
living seems as immediate today as ever. The 
solutions may no longer seem pressing, but his 
problem-solving process still offers beauty and 
intellectual stimulation. 

Two of Eames’s recent films, Powers of Ten 
and National Aquarium Presentation , are re- 


finements of the idea-film technique just as 
Tops is a refinement of the toy films. These two 
films represent the two sorts of ideas Eames de- 
signs, the single or the environmental concept, 
and are more universal than Eames’s earlier 
computer ideas. Because of the richness of the 
aesthetic Eames brings to these films, the ideas 
they portray inevitably strike deeper than 
originally intended. 

Powers of Ten was a “sketch film” to be pre- 
sented at an assembly of one thousand of Am- 
erica’s top physicists. The sketch should, Eames 
decided, appeal to a ten-year-old as well as a 
physicist; it should contain a “gut feeling” about 
dimensions in time and space as well as a sound 
theoretical approach to those dimensions. The 
solution was a continuous zoom from the far- 
thest known point in space to the nucleus of a 
carbon atom resting in a man’s wrist lying on 
Miami Beach. The camera zooms from the 
man’s wrist to a hypothetical point in space and 
zooms back again, going through the man’s 
wrist to the frontier of the inner atom. 

Going out, the speed of the trip was lO*/ 10 
meters per second* — that is, in each 10 sec- 
onds of travel the imaginary voyager covered 
10 times the distance he had traveled in the 
previous 10 seconds. In this schema a trip from 
the nucleus of the carbon atom to the farthest 
known reaches of the universe takes 350 sec- 
onds. This information is presented in several 


* Time divided by 10 is the “power”— in other 
words, after 40 seconds, you are 10-to-the-fourth 
meters away, or one followed by four zeros ( 10,- 
000 ). 





EAMES 


11 


ways: the right central section of the screen 
pictures the actual zoom, at the left of the 
screen a dashboard with several clocks shows 
the total distance traveled, the power of ten 
achieved, the travelers time, the earth time, 
and the percentage of the speed of light. A dis- 
passionate female voice — a robot stewardess — 
describes every second of the journey in full, 
rapid detail. The narrator also supplies extrane- 
ous, unexpected information. “We have now 
reached the point where we can see the dis- 
tance light travels in one minute,” she says, 
and a short burst of light, one minute long, 
passes before our eyes. In addition, there is an 
eerie score supplied by Elmer Bernstein on a 
miniature Japanese organ. 

Handling information in such a way, Powers 
of Ten is able to give more data more densely 
than a multi-screen presentation. The pictorial 
area of the screen in itself has more visual in- 
formation than the mind can assimilate. Every 
spot on the image is a continuous transforma- 
tion: skin becomes a wrist, wrist a man, man a 
beach, beach a peninsula, and so on, each 
change the square of the previous change, and 
each faster than the viewer can adjust his equil- 
ibrium. The zooming image, in itself, is only an 
“experience” and could easily be used in a 
light show ( as it has been at the Whiskey A Go 
Go in Los Angeles). But the irony of Powers 
of Ten is that the narration and the dashboard 
demand exactly what the viewer is unable to 
do: make cerebral sense of the fantastic voyage. 
The monbtone narration and animated dash- 
board affect the other side of perception; they 
use the conventional methods of appealing to 
reason. From the first frame of this eight-minute 


film the spectator is at a perceptual fail-safe 
point; both his mental and emotional facilities 
are over-taxed. As the viewer backs off from 
such a fail-safe point, as he has to, he takes 
with him certain souvenirs — individual data 
which in each case will be different, but mostly 
an Idea which in this case is about the di- 
mensions of time and space. 

The interstellar roller-coaster ride of Powers 
of Ten does what the analogous sequence in 
2001: A Space Odyssey should have: it gives 
the full impact — instinctual as well as cerebral 
— of contemporary scientific theories. (In com- 
parison 2001, like Expo ’67 seems “astound- 
ing.”) It popularizes (in the best sense of the 
word) post-Einsteinian thought the way the 
telescope popularized Copernicus; and the ef- 
fect is almost as upsetting. The spectator is in 
perspectiveless space; there is no one place 
where he can objectively judge another place. 
Just as the vacationing hayseed begins to think 
of himself as a citizen of the country rather than 
of just Sioux Center, and the jet-setter begins to 
think of himself as a citizen of the world rather 
than of just the United States, so the time-space 
traveler of Powers of Ten thinks of himself as 
a citizen of the universe, an unbounded terri- 
tory. 

Eames approached the problem in universal 
terms (to please the ten year-old as well as the 
nuclear physicist) and, as in designing a chair, 
sought to find what was most common to their 
experience. Sophisticated scientific data was 
not the denominator (although the film had to 
handle such matters with complete accuracy to 
maintain credibility), but it was that inchoate 
“gut feeling” of new physics which even the 



12 


EAMES 


most jaded scientist, as Eames says, “had never 
quite seen in this way before.” Just as it took a 
more complex and intellectual structure to give 
a computer integrity than a toy train, so it took 
a more complex and intellectual structure to 
give the powers-of-ten-extended-through-space- 
and time-idea integrity than Boolean Logic. 
Powers of Ten goes beyond a simple explana- 
tion of the powers of ten (which Eames had 
done in his IBM Mathematics Peep Show by 
using the parable of the chess board and sacks 
of grain) , and concretizes a concept of the uni- 
verse true to contemporary experience. And 
that Idea is covetable. 

National Aquarium Presentation resulted from 
a more earthly problem. Aquarium is, simply 
enough, a report to the Department of Interior 
on a proposed National Aquarium. After two 
years of research and design, the Eames office 
presented the Department of the Interior not 
a voluminous sheath of blueprints, but a ten- 
minute color film and an illustrative booklet. 
The problem was not only to develop the de- 
sign and rationale for the Aquarium, but also to 
persuade an economy-minded Congress to lay 
out the cash for such a project. When dealing 
with the government, film is the petitioner’s 
ideal medium: “I’ve discovered,” says Eames, 
“that not even a senator dares to stand up and 
interrupt a film.” 

Again Eames had to state the problem be- 
fore he could solve it: “ Aquarium wasn’t a sell- 
ing job, it was a report. Mike Kerwin, a vener- 
able member of Congress, was interested in this 
and this was to be Mike Kerwin’s monument. 
But Mike Kerwin didn’t have any idea really 
of what an aquarium should be. As he or some- 
one else said, ‘Anything to keep those little 
children from peeing in the Capitol.’ This is 
about the level these projects get started. The 
only thing you can do is try to create a level 
someone else would be embarrassed to fall 
below.” 

National Aquarium Presentation constructs 
the Aquarium in ten minutes, from overall con- 
ception to minute detail. Step by rapid step the 
film discusses the rationale, decides on a loca- 
tion, landscapes the environment, constructs the 


building, details the departments, and takes the 
viewer on a guided tour of the finished institu- 
tion. Diverse methods of information presen- 
tation are used: graphs, animation, models, live- 
action, narration, music. 

The guiding principles of the Aquarium are 
not simply aquatic curiosity or research. Like 
all of Eames’s creations, the Aquarium is found- 
ed on organization, practicality, intelligence, 
and enjoyment. Aquarium makes sure that the 
viewer doesn’t mistake those fish for something 
inessential to man. One who wishes to attack 
the Aquarium must attack the principles it is 
based on. The true function of the Aquarium is 
stated in the concluding lines of narration: 

S till the greatest souvenirs of the Aquarium 
may be the beauty and intellectual stimulation 
it holds. The principal goal is much the same 
as science , to give the visitor some understand- 
ing of the natural world. If the National Aquar- 
ium is as good as it can be, it will do just that. 
— from National Aquarium Presentation 

Even though Congress has yet to give final 
approval, the National Aquarium exists. It exists 
not only to the architects, to whom it always 
exists, but also to those who have seen Eames’s 
film. After seeing the film, viewers speak of the 
Aquarium in the present; the fact that they 
cannot go the Washington and experience the 
Aquarium tactilely is only a chronological mis- 
fortune. The viewer has already experienced the 
full delights of the Aquarium, its beauty and in- 
tellectual stimulation. When the Aquarium is 
finally built, it seems to me, it will not be be- 
cause the government really felt that it was 
needed, but because the Aquarium has already 
existed in so many minds — Congressmen, sci- 
entists, bureaucrats — that a physical structure 
was necessary to concretize the cinematic ex- 
perience. And, if the Aquarium is built, it will 
be a rare demonstration of the Realpolitik pow- 
er of an idea. 

The irony and power of National Aquarium 
is that it is greater than the Aquarium ever can 
be. In its finest form the Aquarium exists in the 
mind, and the physical structure can only be 
a pale imitation of the dream. Eames calls Na- 
tional Aquarium a “fiction of reality,” and like 



the best fictions it is more meaningful than its 
reality. Eames has constructed the Aquarium 
like Borges constructed the Library of Babel, 
in his short story of that title. Like the Aquar- 
ium the Library is real because it is definitive, it 
can encompass all reality. Just as the writer of 
“Library of Baber’ was able to define himself 
as a member of the Library, it is possible to 
define oneself as a member of the Aquarium. 
The Aquarium has all the virtues of a meaning- 
ful existence; it offers a way of perceiving the 
outside world, one’s neighbor, and one’s self. 
And even if one is only a visitor to the Aquar- 
ium, as we all must be, the Aquarium presents 
the virtues of beauty and intellectual stimula- 
tion that one would be embarrassed to fall 
below. 

The radical, wonderful thing about Eames’s 
Aquarium is that you can live there. One of the 
pleasures and limitations of Traditional cinema 
is that it is idiosyncratic: only Fellini can fully 
live in Fellini’s world, Godard in Godard’s, 
Hawks in Hawks’s (great films transcend these 
limitations to varying degrees). Like an archi- 
tect, Charles Eames builds film-structures in 
which many people can live, solve their prob- 
lems, and respect their environment. 


Ecological greenhouse , National Aquarium, 1967 

The three films discussed, Tops , Powers of 
Ten , and National Aquarium Presentation , total 
less than twenty-five minutes of screen time. 
To extrapolate an environmental aesthetic from 
a ten-minute sponsored film like National 
Aquarium may seem like the height of critical 
mannerism to some, and it is certainly possible 
that Eames’s first films are not as important as 
I think they are. But in examining his films in 
detail, one finds the essential qualities of con- 
temporary art. The Eames aesthetic personal- 
izes assembly-line art, gives creator power to 
the consumer, permits individual integrity with- 
in a dehumanized collective, and allows the 
field to have as much value as the items within 
it. 

In film, the Eames aesthetic introduces a new 
way of perceiving ideas into a medium which 
has been surprisingly anti-intellectual. Cinema 
threw every other art into the twentieth century, 
Wylie Cypher contends in Rococo to Cubism, 
and remained woefully in the nineteenth itself. 
Much of the upheaval in contemporary films has 
been the protest of the romantic-idiosyncratic 
tradition against itself. Even the best of recent 




14 


EAMES 


films, like Persona, Belle de Jour, The Wild 
Bunch, are too inherently a part of the tradition 
they protest to posit an alternative cinema. The 
few film-makers handling ideas today, Robbe- 
Grillet, Rohmer, Godard, Resnais, seem to fail 
because they cannot escape the romantic per- 
spective. The French intellectual cinema (the 
only intellectual cinema) verges on bankruptcy; 
its failures are as disastrous as Godard's One 
Plus One, its successes as minimal as Robbe- 
Grillet's Trans-Europe Express. Because Eames 
comes from another discipline with a pre-exist- 
ing aesthetic he is able to bring innovation to an 
art which in the area of ideas is only spinning 
its wheels. It is Eames’s aesthetic which is ulti- 
mately the innovation. 

Eames returns to film in a limited and ex- 
ploratory manner what Cubism took from it in 
the early 1900's. What Sypher wrote of the 
cubist art of Cezanne, Eliot, Pirandello, and 
Gide is now true of Eames's films: 

“Have we not been misled by the nineteenth- 
century romantic belief that the imagination 
means either emotional power or the concrete 
image, the metaphor alone. We have not sup- 
posed there is a poetry of ideas.'' 

INTERVIEW 

1 spoke with Charles Eames on several occasions 
during January , 1970, and the quotes in the 
preceding article are excerpted from those con- 
versations. Afterward, 1 posed written ques- 
tions to Eames, intended to capsulize and ex- 
plore many of the discussions we had had, to 
which he responded in writing. 

Your career has seen many permutations. At 
times you have been an architect, furniture de- 
signer, a craftsman, an inventor, a film-maker, 
and a professor. Do you see a sense of design 
in your own career, or does it appear to be more 
accidental or haphazard? 

Looking back on our work, I see no design 
— certainly nothing haphazard, and not much 
that could really be called accidental. What I 
think I see is a natural, though not predictable, 
growth toward a goal that has not ever been 
specified. 


Given an empty blank, say, about the size 
of an IBM card, how would you characterize 
your current occupation? 

I am occupied mostly by things that I have 
to fight my way through in order to get some 
work done. 

How does an Eames film originate? What do 
the discussions with the producers ) entail? 
What determines whether you and Ray will 
accept or reject a proposed film? 

A film comes as a result of one of two situa- 
tions. It is either a logical extension of some im- 
mediate problem we are working on, or it is 
something we have been wanting to do for a 
long time and can't put off any longer. 

On several occasions you have stated that 
you regard film simply as the medium through 
which you solve problems and explain concepts. 
What, for you, has made film so uniquely suited 
to this task? 

We have fallen for the illusion that film is a 
perfectly controlled medium; that after the mess 
of production, when it is all in the can, nothing 
can erode it — the image, the color, the timing, 
the sound, everything is under control. It is just 
an illusion — thoughtless reproduction, projec- 
tion and presentation turn it into a mess again. 
Still, putting an idea on film provides the ideal 
discipline for whittling that idea down to size. 

One of the most consistent techniques in your 
films is information-overload , that is, you habit- 
ually give more data than the mind can assimi- 
late. What do you think is the effect of this 
cascading level of information on the viewer? 
Do you think this effect can be conditioning, 
that it can expand the ability to perceive? In 
other words, will a viewer learn more from 
the fifth Eames film he sees than the first, as- 
suming they are of equal complexity? 

I don’t really believe we overload, but if 
that is what it is, we try to use it in a way that 
heightens the reality of the subject, and where, 
if the viewer is reduced to only a sampling, that 
sampling will be true to the spirit of the subject. 
Maybe after seeing one or two the viewer learns 
to relax. 

Concerning Day of the Deed and Two Bar- 
oque Churches in Germany, films which utilize 


EAMES 


15 


a rapid succession of still views , Michael 
Brawne wrote in Architectual Design that “ the 
interesting point about this method of film mak- 
ing is not only that it is relatively simple to pro- 
duce and that rather more information can be 
conveyed than when there is movement on the 
screen, but that it corresponds surprisingly 
closely with the way in which the brain normal- 
ly records the images it receives " Do you feel 
this is actually the way the brain works, and is 
that why you used that technique? 

Because the viewer is being led at the cut- 
ter’s pace, it can, over a long period, be ex- 
hausting. But this technique can deliver a great 
amount of information in much the same way 
we naturally perceive it — we did this pretty 
consciously. 

Alison Smithson, another British critic, has 
written of your furniture, “ The influence of the 
West Coast comes to us through Earnest To 
what extent do you think Mrs. Smithson is cor- 
rect? This question may imply that Los Angeles 
is the prototype for America, as some city-plan- 
ners have said, and I certainly wouldn't hold 
you responsible for that. 

Los Angeles is the prototype for any city built 
by any people from anywhere, who have been 
removed from their native constraints. We have 
perhaps carried with us a few more constraints 
than most, and this may be what the Smithsons 
choose to recognize. 

You have never handled a fictional situation 
in your films , and I assume this is by choice 
rather than accident. I would like to ask if there 
might arise a problem which you felt could best 
be solved in a fictional manner — but this is in- 
cumbent upon an understanding of what is 
fiction ." The IBM Puppet Shows segment 
“Sherlock Holmes in * The Singular Case of the 
Plural Green Mustache 9 " would seem to be a 
fiction in conventional terms, yet its plot is noth- 
ing but an exercise in Boolean Logic. The out- 
standing feature of National Aquarium Pres- 
entation is that it seems to be a fiction more 
real — more immediate — than the object it por- 
trays. Perhaps it would be more accurate to ask 
i chat you would consider a “fiction" in the 
framework of your films, and if you feel or have 


felt any aspects of fictionality creeping into your 
work? 

I think the meaning of fiction that you as- 
cribed to the Aquarium is quite accurate. Fic- 
tion in this case is used as a model or simulation 
against which to try out possible reactions. I 
suppose it is true that none of our films has had 
any trace of plot, in most of them it is structure 
that takes the place of plot. 

One definition of fiction which might be ap- 
plied to your films is anything which violates 
the scientific verities of the universe. Yet one of 
the thrusts of modern science is the truth that 
science considered from any one perspective is 
in itself a fiction. Would you consider making 
a fiction of science, that is, either criticizing a 
particular theory-fiction because it is too limited, 
or positing a multi-faceted conception of per- 
ceiving the universe, just as you posited the 
Aquarium? 

I believe it would be possible to build in film 
a conception/a fiction of science — but it would 
probably be bound by the same constraints as 
any scientific hypothesis. 

Relevant to this discussion is the fact that 
you have never explicated philosophical or 
psychological problems, only scientific ones. 
You have never attempted a film like, say, an 
adaptation of Cassirer s Philosophy of the En- 
lightenment, although such a film made in your 
style could be extraordinary. A philosophical 
theory cannot be empirically limited in the way 
a scientific one can, yet I think your best “sci- 
ence" film, Powers of Ten, works in that area 
where modern science and philosophy converge 
in outer space. You once mentioned the possi- 
bility of making a film illustration of one of 
Richard Feynmans lectures. Would not such a 
project bring you even further away from the 
comfortable ground of computer logic and into 
the nebulous sphere of modern philosophy? 

I have never looked upon any of our films as 
being scientific, but at the same time I have 
never considered them less philosophical than 
scientific. 

When dealing with some fairly elaborate 
problems, such as the computer, the city, the 
Aquarium, etc., we have usually tried to re- 


16 


EAMES 


duce the general problem to a series of small 
simple units that even we could really un- 
derstand, and pass something of this particular 
understanding on. Some special combination 
of units may give the whole piece a smell of 
science or of philosophy. 

Several years ago , C. P. Snow's Two Cultures 
revived the science-art debate in England , and 
to a lesser extent in this country. Are there two 
cultures in the way Snow describes , and is this 
necessarily dangerous? Science and art seem to 
have merged completely in the lives of your- 
self and Ray , but others have a difficulty inte- 
grating these spheres. 

If there are two cultures, as Snow suggests, 
it is probably no more or less dangerous than 
the ignorance that goes with polarized training 
and thinking ever was — but, at this time in 
particular, it seems unnecessary. 

You once expressed concern over Feynmans 
involvement with local artists. You said the 
tendency for a collision with a sculptor or a 
painter who is preoccupied with certain per- 
sonality idiosyncrasies could derail him (Feyn- 
man) and you want to protect him because 
something great could happen. Is this state- 
ment simply altruistic, or perhaps are you re- 
acting to a certain voguishness or lack of 
thought on the part of the artists, or even that 
scientists shouldn't truck with “idiosyncratic” 
methods of expression? 

Naturally, I would not think that any ex- 
posure to the art types would really derail Feyn- 
man. I am super-impatient with those, who, 
with the object of somehow heightening the 
aesthetic values of the community, seek to bring 
painters and sculptors together with scientists 
in a conscious effort to affect the aesthetic cli- 
mate. 

I have a conviction, no matter how unlikely 
it sometimes seems, that somehow, sometime, 
out of the world engaged in problem-structur- 
ing and scientific pursuits, will come a sharpen- 
ing and a new awareness of aesthetic values. 

The danger is that this world can be pre- 
maturely contaminated by a virus that results 
in preoccupation with self-expression. When a 
scientist, engineer, mathematician (with natural 


resistance less than that of Feynman) collide 
with the painter, sculptor, they catch the bug 
to which the painter, sculptor have developed 
an immunity. Little moves toward self-expres- 
sion, a self-conscious attitude toward “Art” and 
a numbing of the sense that would allow them 
to recognize aesthetics as an extension of their 
own discipline. 

In House of Science, the scientist is defined 
as one who “assumes that the puzzles have a 
solution, that they will be fair.” What would 
your scientist say if someone countered that the 
puzzles had no solution, and weren't fair? 

He could give one scientist’s reaction, Ein- 
stein’s. When asked a question similar to that, 
he replied, “God may be subtle, but he’s not 
malicious.” 

FILMOGRAPHY 

This filmography was compiled with the assistance of the Charles 
Eames Workshop. Information about many of the films is sketchy, 
inadequate, or unknown. Eames has written descriptions of some 
of the films, and l have supplied others. All of the films were 
conceived and directed by Charles and Ray Eames, and photo- 
graphed by Charles Eames. 

Glen Fleck, a vital part of the Eames film-making process, is 
not mentioned in the filmography, primarily because his contri- 
bution to individual films is difficult to assess. “ Up to very 
recently,” Eames said, “he (Glen Fleck) is the only one in the 
office with whom we have talked about concept or form.” Eames 
wrote the following description of Fleck's role and credits: 
“Glen came to the office during the development of the first 
Mathematica (1950). He did the drawings on three of the peep 
shows then later organized the material and did the animation 
on the proloque to the House of Science. Recently, he also did 
the organization and animation on Computer Glossary and worked 
on the IBM Fair show. At the moment most of his work is 
computer concepts and he is masterminding that big history of 
data processing. Glen is one of the very few people who has a 
sense of what it is to communicate meaning. What is more, he 
has a sense of when he has not communicated it, and a sense 
of when he has not understood it in the first place — very rare.” 

Films marked “( nl )” are not for loan under any circumstances. 
A few of Eames's films are distributed by IBM and the Museum 
of Modern Art. Most of the films, however, have no uniform 
distribution, although this matter is being given consideration. 
For further information write: Charles Eames Workshop, 901 
Washington Boulevard, Venice, California, 90291. 

Traveling Boy. 1950. Color, (nl). A journey through the world 
of toys, with a mechanical boy as tour guide. 

Parade, or Here They Come Down the Street. 1952. 6 minutes. 
Color. “Filmed entirely with mechanical toys as actors moving 
against a background of children’s drawing of a city street. Band 


EAMES 


17 


music, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever , accompanies the toy 
elephants and tigers and horses while brilliant Japanese paper 
flowers and balloons burst in the air over their heads. Drawings 
by Sansi Girard at age 5.” Winner of Edinburgh Film Festival 
Award, 1954. 

Blacktop. 1952. 11 minutes. Color. “An exercise in musical and 
visual Variations on a Theme, Blacktop is the image of water and 
foam generated in the washing of a blacktopped school yard 
viewed against the music of Landowska playing Bach’s Goldberg 
Variations.’’ Winner of Edinburgh International Film Festival 
Award, 1954. 

Bread. 1953. 6 minutes, 30 seconds. Color. Study of Bread made 
for Eames’s “A Rough Sketch for a Sample Lesson for a Hypo- 
thetical Course.” 

Calligraphy. 1953. Study of Calligraphy for “A Rough Sketch.” 

Communications Primer. 1953. 22 minutes, 30 seconds. Color. “An 
early attempt to make a popular presentation of communications 
theory — while a few of the techniques and words seem dated, 
most of it holds up quite well. The original motivation was to 
encourage such disciplines in the worlds of architecture and 
planning.” 

Sofa Compact. 1954. 11 minutes. Color. Traces the design and 
development of a product and its uses. 

Ttco Baroque Churches in Germany. 1955. 10 minutes, 30 seconds. 
“These two churches, Viersehnciligen and Ottobeuren, are rich 
examples of mid-18th Century German Baroque, a time when 
music, literature, architecture and philosophy were unified. The 
film, rather than explaining the structure, attempts to give in 
one reel with 296 stills, the feeling of what German Baroque was 
and what gave it such great style. Music by George Muffat played 
by Walter Korner on the organ at Vierezehneiligen.” 

House. 1955. 11 minutes. Color. “Largely because of Elmer Bern- 
stein’s fine score this becomes a rather poetic view of the 
Eames house in Pacific Palisades, California. It is full of de- 
tails of everything, but is now a bit dated except for those with 
a historical interest.” Winner of Festival International du Film 
Montreal Award, 1961. 

Textiles and Ornamental Arts of India. 1955. 11 minutes, 30 
seconds. Color. Film record of an exhibition, designed and in- 
stalled by Alexander Girard of material selected by Alexander 
Girard and Edgar Kaufman. 

Eames Lounge Chair. 1956. 2 minutes, 15 seconds. B&W. “A 
stylized and sped-up scene of the assembling of the Eames 
leather lounge chair and ottoman, with music improvised by 
Elmer Bernstein.” 

Aerial sequences in The Spirit of St. Louis. 1956. Color. St. 
Louis was directed for Warner Brothers by Billy Wilder, a life- 
long friend of the Eameses. 

Day of the Dead. 1957. Color. A portrayal of the Mexican Day 


of the Dead consisting of still shots and narration. Winner of 
San Francisco International Film Festival Award, 1958. 

Toccata for Toy Trains. 1957. 14 minutes. Color. “Toy trains in 
toccata form is a nostalgic and historical record of great old 
toys from the world of trains. The characters, the architecture, 
the objects with which the scenes were built, were all somewhere, 
at sometime, manufactured and sold. Music score by Elmer 
Bernstein.” Winner of Edinburgh International Film Festival 
Award, 1957. Seventh Melbourne Film Festival Award, 1958. 
American Film Festival Award, 1959. Scholastic Teachers’ 11th 
Annual Film Award, 1960. 

The Information Machine. 1957. 10 minutes. Color. “An animated 
film made in 1957 for use in the IBM Pavilion at the Brussels 
World’s Fair. Because it deals mostly in the general principles 
surrounding man’s problems and the electronic computer, the 
points made in the film do not yet seem too dated. Music by 
Elmer Bernstein. Drawings by Dolores Cannata.” Winner of 
Edinburgh International Film Festival Award, 1958, Melbourne 
Film Festival Award, 1963. 

The Expanding Airport. 1958. 10 minutes. Color. Presents Eero 
Saarinen’s concept for Dulles Airport. 

Herman Miller at the Brussels Fair. 1958. 4 minutes, 30 seconds. 
Color. A film for the American Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels 
World’s Fair. 

De Gaulle Sketch. 1959. 1 minute, 30 seconds. B&W. “An at-the- 
moment attempt to put together all the images that appeared in 
the press on the de Gaulle crisis in a one-and-one-half-minute 
resume. Later in January of 1960, Eric Severeid used it on CBS 
in his recapping of events of the fifties.” 

Glimpses of USA. 1959. 12 minutes. Color. Glimpses of USA was 
commissioned by the State Department to introduce the United 
States Exhibit at the Moscow World’s Fair. A rapid succession 
of still photos depicting various aspects of American life were 
projected on seven 32-foot screens inclosed within a geodesic dome 
designed by Buckminster Fuller. Glimpses of USA was never 
shown in its original form outside of the Moscow Fair presenta- 
tions. 

Jazz Chair (nl). 1960. 6 minutes, 30 seconds. 

Introduction to Feedback. 1960. 11 minutes. Color. “By using 
a large variety of familiar examples that all have the feedback 
principle in common, this film presents a broad view of the 
phenomena present in control mechanism and social situations. 
Musical score by Elmer Bernstein.” Winner of Festival In- 
ternational du Film de Montreal Award, 1961, Internationale 
Filmwoche, Mannheim, Germany, Award, 1961, Melbourne Film 
Festival Award, 1963. 

Sequences in the CBS special Fabulous Fifties, including Music 
Sequence, Dead Sequence, De Gaulle, Gift From the Sea (nl). 
The Comics (nl), Where Did You Go — Out? (nl). 1960. B&W. 
Eames described the Music Sequence : “This introduced what 
later became a fashionable quick-cut technique in television. It 


18 


EAMES 


was a resume of the popular music of the fifties, for Leland 
Hayward’s ‘Fabulous Fifties’.” Winner of Emmy Award for 
Graphics, 1960. 

IBM Mathematics Peep Show. 1961. 11 minutes. Color. ‘‘Produced 
originally to support the mathematical exhibition designed for 
IBM, this film is composed of five individual segments — each 
about 2 minutes long and each demonstrating a particular mathe- 
matical concept. Music by Elmer Bernstein.” Winner of Festival 
International du Film de Montreal Award, 1961, London Film 
Festival Award, 1963. 

Kaleidoscope, (nl) 1961. 

Kaleidoscope Shop, (nl) 1961. 3 minutes, 30 seconds. A tour 
around the Eames Workshop through a Kaleidoscope. 

ECS (Eames Contract Storage). 1962. 7 minutes. Color. A train- 
ing and sales film for Herman Miller. 

House of Science. 1962. 15 minutes, 30 seconds. Color. Six-screen 
presentation commissioned by the US Government for Seattle 
World’s Fair. It has become a permanent exhibit called Eames 
Theatre. Eames has described a single-screen version: “A single- 
screen version of the multi-screen introduction to the United 
States Science Exhibit in Seattle. The ‘House of Science* draws 
attention to the role of men, their environment, ideas and 
achievements in our world — a view of science and how it got 
that way.” 

Before the Fair. 1962. 8 minutes. Color. “This film, made for 
Herman Miller, shows the very last-minute hustle, bustle, 
painting and clean up on the days just before opening the 1962 
Seattle World’s Fair — also some Herman Miller furniture.” 

IBM Fair Presentation Film I and II. (nl). 1962, revised 1963. 
Made for the IBM presentation at the Seattle Fair, and later 
revised for the New York World’s Fair. 

Sequences in the CBS special The Good Years, including Meet 
Me in St. Louis, San Francisco Fire, (nl). Panic on Wall Street 
(nl). 1962. B&W. 

Think. 1964, revised 1965. 13 minutes, 30 seconds. Color. A multi- 
screen presentation at the Ovoid Theater of the IBM Pavilion 
of the New York World’s Fair. Think was projected on 22 
separate screens (shaped in circles, squares, triangles, and rec- 
tangles), and included a live host. The 22 images were not pro- 
jected simultaneously, and included live and still motion and 
animation. The IBM Pavilion, including the Ovoid Theater, was 
designed by Eames. Think is available in a single screen version 
titled View From the People Wall: A single screen condensation 
of the elaborate multi-image show at the IBM Pavilion in New 
York, aimed at showing that the complex problems of our times 
are solved in the same way as the simple problems, they are 
just more complicated. Musical score by Elmer Bernstein. 

IBM Puppet Shows. 1965. 9 minutes. Color. Two puppet shows 
titled Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Singular Case of the Plural 
Green Mustache’ ” and “Computer Day at Midvale.” “A film 
version of two electronically controlled puppet shows on dis- 


play at the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. In one, 
Sherlock Holmes solves a crime by his usual method (and the 
computer method) — Boolean Algebra. In the second, then, the 
town of Midvale celebrates the installation of its first com- 
puter. The mayor jumps to some conclusions which the computer 
expert has a difficult time correcting.” 

IBM at the Fair. 1965. 7 minutes, 30 seconds. A fast-paced mon- 
tage of the IBM Pavilion. Music by Elmer Bernstein. 

Westinghouse A.B.C. 1965. 12 minutes. Color. Pictures some quick 
glimpses of current Westinghouse products — in alphabetical order. 
Music by Elmer Bernstein. 

The Smithsonian Institution. 1965. 36 minutes. B&W. “A film 
produced at the time of the 200th anniversary of Smithsonian’s 
birth. It describes events leading up to the founding of the 
Institution and the work of those men that set the character of 
the Smithsonian. Music by Elmer Bernstein.” 

The Smithsonian Newsreel, (nl) 1965. 20 minutes. 

Horizontes. 1966. Opening and end titles for a series of Latin- 
American fi’lms for USIA. 

Boeing the Leading Edge. 1966. 11 minutes. Color. “A film de- 
signed to illustrate the degree to which computer control is used 
to support, insure and extend development, design and pro- 
duction in a modern aero space manufacturing facility.” 

IBM Museum, (nl). 1967. 10 minutes. 

A Computer Glossary. 1967. 10 minutes, 47 seconds. Color. “With 
a live-action prologue that gives an intimate view of a computer 
data path, this animated film presents, through computer termi- 
nology, some revealing and characteristic aspects of the electronic 
problem-solving art. Used in the IBM Pavilion at the San An- 
tonio World’s Fair. Music by Elmer Bernstein.” 

National Aquarium Presentation. 1967. 10 minutes, 34 seconds. 
Color. “A film report to the Secretary of the Interior showing 
what the architecture and the program of the new National 
Aquarium will be, something of what it would contain and general 
philosophies and discipline that would be involved. Musical score 
by Buddy Collette.” 

Schuetz Machine. 1967. 7 minutes, 15 seconds. Color. Visual study 
of the Schuetz calculating machine. 

Lick Observatory. 1968. 10 minutes. Color. “A somewhat nostalgic 
view of an astronomer’s environment in an observatory on a 
mountain — made to give students who have not seen a large in- 
strument something of the smell and sentiment of these sur- 
roundings.” 

Babbage. 1968. 3 min, 50 seconds. A visual study of the calculat- 
ing machine or difference engine. 

Powers of Ten. 1968. 7 minutes, 53 seconds. Color. “A linear 
view of our universe from the human scale to the sea of galaxies. 


WELLES BEFORE KANE 


19 


then directly down to the nucleus of a carbom atom. With an 
image, a narration and a dashboard, it gives a clue to the relative 
size of things and what it means to add another zero to any 
number.” 

Photography and the City. 1969. 15 minutes. Color. ‘‘A film about 
the influence photography has had in the shaping of cities and 
the solving of urban problems. The first part is a historic review 
of some of the photographs that for the most part, by intent, 
have had an influence on the city. The last part is essentially a 
catalogue of those images from which a wide variety of in- 
formation about the city can be derived.” 

Tops. 1969. 7 minutes, 15 seconds. Color. A visual study of tops. 
Films in Progress 

The UN Information Center. Another “fiction of reality,” pro- 


Welles Before Kane 


Orson Welles has never mentioned to interview- 
ers that he did any experimentation in film prior 
to his coming to Hollywood — undoubtedly 
preferring the world to think that he burst full- 
blown on the scene with Citizen Kane. To an 
interviewer who asked him recently how he 
arrived at Kane's “cinematic innovations,” he 
replied airily, “I owe it to my ignorance. If this 
word seems inadequate to you, replace it with 
innocence.” But Welles was far from being a 
filmic innocent. There have been a few furtive 
mentions, largely unheeded by film historians, 
of a film he shot in 1938 for use in a Mercury 
Theatre stage production, William Gillette's 
farce Too Much Johnson , which ran for two 
weeks at the Stony Creek Summer Theatre in 
New York before Welles decided not to bring 
it to Broadway. He reportedly shot a twenty- 
minute silent prologue to the play, and ten- 
minute films to introduce the second and third 
acts. Included in the cast were Joseph Cotten, 


posing a communications hub for the United Nations. “In this 
film we really go beyond ourselves,” Eames said; “what we 
really end up doing is making a case for the UN.” 

Man’s View of Himself. A study of “man’s changing notion of 
what makes him unique, and a realization that only when man 
stops worrying about what makes him unique can he solve the 
problems his uniqueness poses.” Commissioned by IBM. 

Memory. Commissioned by IBM. 

The Perry Expedition. Commodore Perry’s 1853 “Opening of 
Asia,” as seen through Japanese documents of the times. Com- 
missioned by the Smithsonian Institute. 

Two films for the National Aquarium. One on shellfish, and 
another on the introduction of exotic species into an environment. 
The latter will consist of 25 rapid, consecutive examples. 


JOSEPH MCBRIDE 


Edgar Barrier, Marc Blitzstein and Virginia 
Nicholson, Welles’s first wife. I have not been 
able to see a print of Too Much Johnson. Welles 
has one, but he says that it is not worth seeing 
without the play. He also shot a film as prologue 
to his 1939 vaudeville show, The Green God- 
dess , “depicting an air crash in the Himalayas,” 
according to his associate Richard Wilson. This 
also has so far proved impossible to locate. 

But I have been able to unearth an extremely 
interesting little silent film called The Hearts of 
Age , preserved in a private collection, which 
apparently was Welles’s first venture into film. 
It runs about four minutes and stars Welles 
and Virginia Nicholson. The copy I saw, until 
recently probably the only one extant, was the 
original 16mm print. It was donated, as part of 
the Vance collection, to the Greenwich (Conn.) 
Public Library. The sound of the splices clicking 
through the projector was nerve-wracking — 
though the film is in remarkably good condition